Thursday, January 5, 2012

Movies of 2011, day four: poor choices

Thus far in my look back at films I watched in 2011, I reflected on movies I watched at the cinema, older films I rather enjoyed and films which didn't quite click. Today, I'm looking at those films which I actively disliked. One of them may earn a reprieve (see below), but I feel I'm well rid of the rest; agree or disagree if you will, just meet me below...

It's strange to me how for more than a decade I've been close friends to a dinosaur fan, yet I hadn't watched Jurassic Park. My friend Craig likes dinosaurs; really, really, really likes dinosaurs. He also knows his dinosaur movies incredibly well, from the b-pictures of the past to the CGI fests of the present. It was only when he moved to Hong Kong in 2011 that I inherited his copies of the first two Jurassic Park pictures and decided I might as well give them a whirl. I did find a lot to like about the first film, but as to the Lost World: Jurassic Park? This movie has serious flaws. You may already be familiar with some of them: Vince Vaughn, Goldblum as a leading man, Vince Vaughn, the girl using gymnastics to defeat dinosaurs, Vince Vaughn, the cliched evil businessman plot, Vince Vaughn... It looks nice, but it's big, dumb and too predictable.

On the first night of my vacation trip to Angola, I noticed Sucker Punch in the video-on-demand list. I was only barely aware of the film's existence and knew nothing about the plot or even premise of the picture. However, having enjoyed other Zack Snyder films, I thought it would be a good choice, even though it was getting late for me and I really should have been settling down to try and sleep on the plane. The movie concerns a young woman in a mental institution who concocts a false reality where she's in a brothel who concocts a false reality where she's a video game-style action hero. I gradually realized the fight scenes in the latter reality existed just to indulge Snyder and had nothing to do with the plot - I might as well skip those scenes so I can sleep sooner! But then, the second reality had nothing to do with the plot either - I might as well skip those, too! And the first reality is so by-the-numbers... hey, look, I've skipped ahead to the end! Now I can sleep.

On the way back from Angola, one of the in-flight movies was Water for Elephants. I should have slept through it, but I didn't feel tired. It wasn't objectionable the way Sucker Punch was, but the protagonist in this film is such a lunkhead. Things happen to him, never because of his own actions. After he drops out of med school because his parents are dead, that's pretty well the last time he makes a choice. After that, he chances upon a circus and they chance to welcome him with a job, and they chance to need a veternarian, but the evil ringmaster's not-evil wife chances to have feelings for the med student and the other employees chance to have a growing ill will towards their boss... so the "protagonist" wanders around vacantly while everyone else drives the action. You want your high concept? This film is Toby Tyler meets the Brother From Another Planet.

I shouldn't have watched the Cat People. I rather like the 1940s Val Lewton Cat People, the film praised by many for daring to keep its monster mostly off-screen. I knew from reviews that the 1980s remake had none of the original's sense of subtlety when it came to the monster, violence or eroticism, yet I gave it a try when I found it on Netflix. This movie is just unpleasant, delving into incest and beastiality. What a bad idea.

During a family get-together, we turned up the Black Swan on Netflix and started watching it. However, we knew nothing about how explicitly sexual the movie was and we gave up about halfway through; I might go back to it later, but boy, it ain't one I want to watch with other people in the room.

I knew Jet Li's the One would be a stupid movie; that's why I chose it out of Netflix, I felt like watching something dumb (and none of the Jackie Chan films were loading). Oh my, this movie is dumb. The most interesting thing about it is seeing Jason Statham before he was famous and Space: Above & Beyond's James Morrison (who's never been that famous). What killed the film for me was seeing Li's CGI stunts; a martial artist as great as Jet Li doesn't need CGI to impress audiences. Argh.

when I found the Vanishing on Netflix I really should have opened my Leonard Maltin guide before proceeding any further. I recalled there were two versions of the movie, but I couldn't recall whether the Kiefer Sutherland/Jeff Bridges version was the original or the remake, nor did I recall if the remake was supposed to be any good. Well, this is the remake and no, it's not very good. Bridges' lispy Capote-like delivery made him a pretty poor villain in my estimation. This movie is also very confused about how the characters relate to one another, with one supposedly-pivotal moment between Sutherland and his girlfriend being instantly contradicted by the following scene. The original may be a great picture; this wasn't worth the $0 I paid for it.

Tomorrow, it ends on a positive note: pleasant surprises.

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